“The Troop” by Nick Cutter (Gallery Books, 2014)

The Troop
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The Troop is a return to a classic sort of horror that starts out scaring you quick, then builds and builds, letting your imagination ratchet up your fear with each chapter. As Stephen King’s quote for the book says, “Not for the faint-hearted, but for the rest of us sick puppies, it’s a perfect gift for a winter night.”

Scoutmaster Tim Riggs gets the fun job of leading a troop of fourteen-year-old boys into the heart of the Canadian wilderness to teach them about survival and roughing it. He happens to be a medical doctor and feels like he can handle whatever nature can throw at him, and has never had any issues before. That is, until now.

A stranger shipwrecks himself on the island and soon runs into the scoutmaster and the boys, and he is very, very sick. There is something inside him, eating him away, turning him to skin and bones. Riggs watches this before his very eyes as he tries to help the suffering man, who soon dies of what appears to be starvation. It is a sad day for the troop, but they must move on. Except, Riggs is noticing that he now has this growing hunger within him that cannot be satiated; he knows that he is sick, and whatever that poor man had he now has.

The boys know they must now fend for themselves, but Cutter has done a great job of creating an interesting cast of characters here, as each boy is individual with his hang-ups and issues, and as the reader follows the story along, it’s discovered that there are some real special kids here with some big personal and psychological problems. Combine that with this strange sickness and the harshness of the Canadian wilderness, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a story going.

Cutter intersperses chapters with reports, interviews, articles and documents recorded after the ending of the story, which just helps to pique the reader’s interest further. While towards the end some storylines get dragged out a bit, overall the book keeps you hooked to the end, which you have no real clue about. This is horror at its best: making you want to stop reading right away, but knowing you physically are unable to.

Originally written on April 18, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Troop from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Kronos Rising: After 6 Million Years the World’s Greatest Predator is Back” Max Hawthorne (Far From the Tree Press, 2014)

Kronos Rising
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The book Jaws by Peter Benchley was published in 1974 and became an international bestseller, followed by the movie adaptation that became an instant cult classic and a favorite of many. Since then some sequels have been made, and many knock-off novels that play on the whole idea of a sea monster on the loose terrorizing a small town and its people.

I thought Kronos Rising would be another unrealistic example of this genre: predictable, over the top, and simply inaccurate, but the bookwas in fact a complete surprise.

It is a classic setting: a small American town on the east coast where things are simple and straightforward and haven’t changed in some time. Jake Braddock is the town sheriff, a former Olympic fencer who lost his wife in a tragic accident and has made some bad choices in his life, but now he’s on the straight and narrow and does just fine dealing with simple, small-time crimes, until that all changes.

People are starting to disappear out on the water and at first it seems like there might be a man-eating shark on the loose, but the evidence seems to point to something bigger, much bigger. And when an uneaten part of a rich senator’s son shows up, things really begin to heat up. The media gets involved wanting to know what creature is behind the attacks. Braddock enlists the help of a pretty scientist who has shown up with her crew from the World Cetacean Society; she has some evidence revealing that the creature is not just big, but enormous; a surviving relic from the time of the dinosaurs know as the kronosaurus queenslandicus. It is hard to believe but the evidence is irrefutable.

The media has a field day with this announcement, not believing it until the giant creature shows up in the harbor and wreaks havoc upon the residents. The rich senator calls in an élite group to take care of this creature, enlisting the help of Braddock and the scientist, though the sheriff knows they’re getting in way over their heads.

The characters in Kronos Rising are well developed, each with their own complicated backgrounds that have a strong bearing on their current lives. The key to a good story is conflict, and this book is full of it, as the characters come into conflict with each other, which at times feels a little contrived, but nevertheless makes for addictive, page-turning reading.

Max Hawthorne has also done his research into marine biology and ocean life, which all helps make his characters more knowledgeable and interesting and the whole world more believable, even if there is a giant monster eating people in it. The writing is compelling and action-filled so even though the book is well over 500 pages long, it is still an addictive read. While the last third of the book goes off the rails a little and some of the characters become almost caricatures, overall the book is a great addition to this genre, worthy of sitting on the shelf next to Peter Benchley’s Jaws.

Originally written on May 11, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Kronos Rising from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Let the Old Dreams Die” by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013)

Let the Old Dreams Die
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If you’ve read any books from the bestselling Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, such as Handling the Undead, Little Star, Harbor, or his big international hit Let the Right One In, you know he’s got a knack for telling some cold, dark, scary stories. In Let the Old Dreams Die he presents international readers with his first short story collection, showing his breadth not just as a horror writer, but also as a skilled storyteller.

“The Border” is a story about illegal smuggling across an important line of demarcation, but this particular border agent has a talent for spotting and knowing when someone is smuggling, except in this case it turns out to have more to do with her than she knows. “Eternal/Love” is about what happens when your loved one is brought back from the dead, still human, but irrevocably changed. The book also features some important sequel stories, in “Final Processing” to his book Handling the Undead, and “Let the Old Dreams Die” to Let the Right One In.

The collection is a lot of scary fun, working as a good introduction for readers wanting to try Lindqvist for the first time. But it also satisfies cravings for fans: showing his full spectrum as a writer, and providing some much needed new material in various settings, revealing his skill at telling a story that will leave you unable to sleep the night you finish it.

Originally written on April 16, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Let the Old Dreams Die from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Let the Right One In  Handling the Undead  Harbor  Little Star

“Dangerous Women” by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (Tor, 2013)

Dangerous Women
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While George R. R. Martin may be taking his time with his next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, he definitely has an ability for finding some great talented storytellers when working with the master editor and anthologist, Gardner Dozois. Dangerous Women is one of those books that you’re very thankful for being a giant tome, as you look forward to finishing the thrilling story you’re currently reading, so you can see how it ends, as well as discovering what the next story is going to be like.

A number of big fantasy name authors make the contents list in this collection, as well as a number of other mainstream authors you may not have read before. Each of them write about heroines or female villains or powerful stories with moving female characters, from the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Sherilynn Kenyon, Carrie Vaughan and S. M. Stirling, as well as a new novella from George R. R. Martin set within his fantasy world.  Not all the stories are fantasy or horror or science fiction, such as with Carrie Vaughan’s riveting story about female fighter pilots.

The beauty of a collection like this is that the reader has a chance to discover a number of new authors they never planned on reading, or maybe have wanted to try. Also, since the book is called Dangerous Women, it does respectfully feature more stories written by women authors, as it should. Ultimately, it’s a collection that features wall-to-wall female characters everywhere, which sadly cannot be said for most books published these days.

Originally written on April 16, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Dangerous Women from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares” by Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press, 2011)

Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares
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The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares is a good collection from bestselling and renowned author Joyce Carol Oates, revealing her skill, talent and ability as a horror writer.  The collection features six stories, with its first, the eponymous one, serving as more of a novella to get the book started.  Though in my opinion, it is the final story that really gets to the reader, leaving them feeling on edge long after the book is finished.

“The Corn Maiden” centers around a small town in New England where a young girl has had a rough upbringing with a single mother always working.  Because of this, her growth and development is somewhat stunted, and she’s not altogether with it.  However, she does have beautiful, lustrous, long golden hair, just like the corn maiden out of legend.  Things seem hard for everyone in this town, and they’re all trying their best to get by.

Then there’s the group of four young teenage girls who have never been popular or feel appreciated by anyone; perhaps they feel abandoned and ignored, and certainly consider themselves outcasts.  They like to bully and play tricks on people, be they kids or adults, they just don’t care.  They follow the sound of their own drum.  And now they have a new thing they’d like to try: the corn maiden ritual.  And they’ve got the perfect girl to kidnap and keep in one of their basements in a mansion where she’ll never be noticed.  They will prepare her for the ritual, and like all good rituals, it has to end in sacrifice.

Oates does a great job of juggling a number of characters in this novella, seeing through the kids eyes with their fast-paced quick-thoughts and illogical ways that really puts the reader in the mind of a mischievous child; but also the feeling of loss and despair when one’s own child is kidnapped and missing.  It’s a powerful story that seems a somewhat obvious and simple one at first, but as the reader continues through, it becomes a lot deeper and complex.

“Beersheba” continues the important theme of the important time of childhood and the affect it can have on a person, even years later into adulthood when the past can come back to haunt you in the form of a vengeful step-daughter.  “Nobody Knows My Name” explores the poignant and potent world of a young girl who now has a new sibling, a baby who is sucking all the attention and love from her life, and it’s up to her to do something about it.

Two stories in the collection feature twins.  “Fossil-Figures” is about twins who are very different and each achieves fame and renown in their own way, but one is incredibly jealous of the other’s success, which will ultimately lead to his undoing.  “Death-Cup” is another twin story of revenge and hate, but has a great Edgar Allan Poe feeling about it.

“Helping Hands” is the story of a middle-aged woman bringing her late husband’s clothes to a charity store and feeling something for the employee there who is a veteran; their relationship turns into something completely unpredictable.  The final story, “A Hole in the Head,” is about a successful and well-off cosmetic surgeon who is cajoled into performing a strange and popular procedure, known as trepanning, which is supposed to free oneself, but going down this dark path ends up releasing the doctor’s own demons and desires.

The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares shows Oates knows how to write great horror, getting deep into the minds of her characters, and taking the reading along.  The stories are dark and moving and disturbing, while the collection as a whole is one that stays with you, even after you’ve put it back on the shelf and some time has passed.

Originally written on February 5, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Snowblind” by Christopher Golden (St. Martin’s Press, 2014)

Snowblind
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Bestselling author Christopher Golden is known for writing some unusual horror books that blend science fiction and fantasy as well, such as his Hidden Cities series written with Tim Lebbon, including The Map of Moments and The Shadow Men, as well as the riveting thriller The Boys Are Back in Town. In Snowblind, he returns to his plain horror roots with a book that will terrify the crap out of you. It is a story of ghosts and creatures in the snow that can barely be seen, but can snatch you up in a second.

We take you now to a small New England town called Coventry in the wonderful state of Massachusetts. This quaint locale has had more than its fair share of inclement weather, including numerous blizzards that are not easily forgotten. Especially that particularly devastating one that left many without power, as well as numerous cases of strange ice figures witnessed amidst the flying snow. Once the storm was done, there were a fair number of people in the town either missing or found dead due to unknown and mysterious circumstances.

Twelve years have now passed and the events of that devastating blizzard still remain shrouded in icy mystery; those who played a part during that terrible time and came through alive have aged more than a decade but still carry the scars from that time. And now there is another blizzard coming, one that looks to be as bad if not worse than that infamous one, and the locals of the town know it and fear it, wondering if they may be the ones to disappear this time, or be found frozen and dead in the snow days after. But how does one stop an ice creature that can barely be seen and can grab you within the blink of an eye?

Christopher Golden could’ve gone for a straight, scary story about scary creatures during a blizzard, but instead he tells a story about a small town and its inhabitants who know each other well and whom the reader gets to know well, and how they address their fears with the oncoming blizzard. This horror novel is anything but ordinary.

Snowblind is Stephen King meets John Ajvide Lindqvist, pulling on King’s small New England town and normal relatable characters that find themselves in a horror novel, along with Lindqvist’s bizarre, cold twisted nightmare that also features ordinary people who have no idea what they’re going into, but have no choice otherwise. Snowblind will leave you cold and frightened and alone, just like any good horror novel should.

Originally written on February 17, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Snowblind from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

The Boys Are Back in Town   The Map of Moments  The Shadow Men

“The Necromancer’s House” by Christopher Buehlman (Ace, 2013)

Necromancer's House
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Welcome to a world where magic, curses and monsters from history and folklore are real. Meet Andrew Ranulf Blankenship, a handsome, debonair magician who is used to getting his way and doing pretty much whatever he wants. He has a pet incarnated wicker man that was once a dog that he makes serve him wine, as well as a foul-smelling demonic mermaid that he likes doing the dirty with.

Only this mermaid just took the life of an important high-up member of the Russian mafia. And Blankenship just happens to have a booby trap infested house along with a number of secret tunnels, all to protect a magic Russian treasury hoard stolen thirty years ago from the Soviet Union. And now he has an ancient creature from Russian folklore coming for this throat, his blood and his soul.

The Necromancer’s House is another strong example of Christopher Buehlman’s talent as a writer with its lyrical prose and gripping plot; the reader soon gets hooked into the story. While some readers may get a little lost with the story’s initial convolutedness, in the end the book delivers.

Originally written on December 26, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Necromancer’s House from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

“The Heavens Rise” by Christopher Rise (Gallery Books, 2013)

Heaven's Rise
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Christopher Rice, son of bestselling horror author Anne Rice, returns with his next novel that is dark and terrifying and mystical in a number of ways, while capturing a feel of New Orleans and that part of the world post-Katrina in a way that only someone deeply familiar with the area could.

This is the story of the strange disappearance of the known and respected Delongpre family; mother, father and daughter lost to the bayou and the world. The daughter, Niquette, is mourned by her boyfriend Anthem and her close friend Ben, while the twisted person Marshall is pretty certain their death was due to his actions. Marshall then throws himself from a high-rise building and ends up in a coma, from which he has gained strange powers.

As years pass and Marshall continues to somehow control others to his whim, it seems perhaps the Delongpres may not be gone for good, as strange things continue to happen, as people fall under a spell, and are not all controlled by Marshall.

Told from various perspectives, Rice has crafted a chilling and thrilling story that abhors as well as entices, leaving the reader turning the pages until the astonishing finale.

Originally written on November 8, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Heavens Rise from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Parasite” by Mira Grant (Orbit, 2013)

Parasite
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With the completion of the Newsflesh trilogy that has earned Mira Grant some dedicated readers, she turns to a new series, this one a duology called Parasitology, leaving the zombies behind for now and taking on a perhaps more frightening and realistic subject: parasites. The time is the near future and the concept is what if we kept a tapeworm in our intestines, known as the Intestinal Bodyguard, which could help cure sickness and prevent things like allergies? Sounds great.  But what if these tapeworms became sentient and intelligent?

Sally came back from the dead; she suffered a horrible accident that essentially killed her but thanks to SymboGen she was brought back to life along with her Intestinal Bodyguard. She’s a different person now, changed from who she was; calmer, quieter, less likely to anger. She’s living with her parents again, still getting used to being alive and being a person once more. She has monthly visits with SymboGen as they continue to check on her and perform their experiments to make sure everything inside her is working fine. She works at an animal habitat center and she has a boyfriend; life for Sally now ain’t too bad.

Except things are starting to get weird; some people are starting to act not like people. They’re acting as if someone else is in control of them, turning violent against other people, really violent, and then falling into a sort of catatonic state. It’s seems totally random and no one really knows who’s going to get hit with this weird state next. And SymboGen isn’t saying if they know anything about this. But Sally knows they have to know something, and she’s going to need to work out what exactly is happening to these people and what can be done about it; because if it’s to do with the Intestinal Bodyguard, then this could happen to her too, at any time.

Grant uses a vaguely similar template for Parasite as she did with Newsflesh, and the reader can’t help but think of these people acting weird as being “zombielike,” but she presents plenty of fun surprises and explores some interesting concepts that leave the reader questioning just about everything, plus one gets to learn way more than they wanted about parasites, Mira Grant style.

Originally written on September 23, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Parasite from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Feed  Deadline  Blackout

“NOS4A2″ by Joe Hill (William Morrow, 2013)

NOS4A2
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Joe Hill should have a fairly good idea what it means to be an author, with a couple of books under his belt — Heart-Shaped Box and Horns — as well as a short story collection — 20th Century Ghosts – plus a successful ongoing graphic novel series called Lock & Key; but his latest novel, NOS4A2 puts him on a stage of developed storytelling with his father, Stephen King. The book has an epic complexity and depth in both character and story, with a villain that will haunt your nightmares for a long time to come, akin to King’s It or The Talisman.

Our hero is Victoria McQueen, a young girl with extraordinary dreams and one very powerful ability. When she is given the Raleigh Tuff Burner bike as a birthday gift, she knows it’s a little too big but very powerful, and when she rides it as fast as she can towards that old bridge across the creek that crashed and disintegrated years ago, she can see the bridge rebuilt and she can cross it to just about wherever she wants. Crossing that bridge lets her find things, like a missing bracelet or photograph, or what happened to her cat, as well as answers to questions she might not want to know. She just has to believe, and she is magically taken there, whether it’s Massachusetts or across the country. She is a girl with a gift that only few others have.

Our villain is one Charles Talent Manx who has the same ability as Victoria, except his mode of transportation is a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity license plate . . . yep, you guessed it: NOS4A2; this black demon car from hell is of course referred to as “The Wraith.” It is with this aged car that Manx takes children who he believes are destined to have traumatic, horrible lives, to his manufactured tinsel town known as “Christmasland,” where every day is Christmas and the children get to go on the rides, and eat candy canes, have snowball fights, and meet Santa; but there is also a cost for these children; something is being taken from them. And they never come back.

But because she is our hero, Victoria will have a meeting and battle with Manx and get him put away for a long time, not for all the missing children, but for something else. But then, many years later, Manx will return, because there’s one thing that’s certain: he’s not human. And this time he’ll be taking Victoria’s child up to Christmasland, and it’s up to her to get him back, before he becomes lost forever.

NOS4A2 shows that Joe Hill has the talent, skill and ability to write a truly great horror novel that puts him right at the top with other greats. NOS4A2 is a novel about many things: our wants and desires in life and that we don’t always get them; how sometimes our nightmares aren’t gone for good; how the love of the child will always supersede anything else, no matter the cost. It is also a fantastic horror novel that will make you simultaneously terrified of it and in love with it, unable to put it down.

Originally written on June 14, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of NOS4A2 from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Horns  Heart-Shaped Box  20th Century Ghosts